Wednesday 26 March 2014

Does Your Stuff Own You?

I'm decluttering and decluttering and decluttering.  I've been doing it for two months and I'm still nowhere near done.  Stuff was taking over my life!

That sad part is, as a professional stager, it was my job to go into someones home and pry their junk away from them so the house looked nice enough to sell for the best possible price.

All my bookcases aren't enough to avoid these stacks of books on the floor. ~

I know all the psychology of helping someone let go of things that are weighing them down and making their life more difficult.  Yet, in my own situation, I don't stop and think about how difficult it is to run a vac over a floor that has books stacked on it.

What I like to call a craft room has become unusable for anything other than hiding stuff. 

Fabric spills out of shelving units ~

and can't be made into anything because the sewing table is piled high with stuff. ~

When the table is full, just pile it on the floor. ~

It wears me out.  It makes everything more difficult, if not impossible, in all this mess.  

I tackled my bedroom first and it felt so light and airy with all the clutter removed that I was inspired to make this craft room usable.  It's not finished, but two days of hard work have made an amazing difference and there is light at the end of the tunnel.  

All the time I worked, I thought of the difficulty in balancing sentiment and practicality.  You can't keep every single thing that meant something to you in the past.  Some of the kids art work has to go, right along with the birthday cards, fabric scraps and almost empty spools of thread.  Some things need to be passed on to someone who can use them, too.  My sister called and told me she was going shopping. When I asked her where, she said, "Your house.  I need a lamp and an end table and you have all kinds of them stored over there."  True enough.  I could give her a choice of four lamps and as many end tables.  It was a relief to see it gone!

I also thought of a young fellow that worked for me at my recording studio in the 80's.  He seemed to have no attachment to material possessions.  He lived in a single, rented room in someones house, didn't own a car and kept everything he absolutely needed to function, in the army surplus backpack he carried everywhere with him.

I never saw the slightest hint of jealousy or competitive behaviour in him and he was helpful to everyone he worked with.  He cared deeply about the music he worked on and was the ideal assistant engineer.  Money was never an issue with him.  He didn't really need much.  Time wasn't a problem either.  No matter how late the session ran, he kept right on working and was happy to catch a nap on the couch in the lounge before the next session started.  After all, he had all his stuff in that knapsack and he could be right at home no matter where he was.  

He became a recording engineer and was so well respected that a world famous engineer invited him to work as second engineer on a very prestigious album being recorded in England.  It was a simple thing for him to pick up that knapsack and cross the Atlantic.  I would see him when he came home to visit his mom and he never changed a bit.  I think it was still the same grey wool coat he wore and I'm sure it was the same knapsack that came back with him every time.  

In a few years he rose to the top of his field and moved on to producing albums that were critically acclaimed and earned him an enormous annual salary.  He bought a flat in an expensive London neighbourhood and had it professionally done up.  He deserved the success that he had earned without ever hurting anyone to get there.

One day he had a call from a musician in Africa, asking if he would come and work on an album with him. Today, this musician is considered a pioneer of modern world music.  But, as popular as he was in Africa, the budget for making an album was very small.  My friend admired the musician and was a fan of his sound but he couldn't walk away from offers of millions to earn a few thousand. He turned the project down.

That night, he came home to his flat and stood there looking at all his stuff.  He picked up the phone and started calling everyone he knew.  Did they want anything?  A stereo system, couch, artwork, dishes?  He gave all of it away.  Every single thing!  He called a real estate agent and told her to put the flat up for sale immediately at a price that would ensure it sold quickly.

His last call was to the African musician to tell him he would be on the next plane and ready to work as soon as he arrived.  

"No, don't worry about getting me a place to stay.  If there is a couch and a shower available at the studio, I'll have everything else I need with me.", he said.

His stuff wasn't owning him anymore.  

It all fit in here and was ready to go wherever his heart led. ~

Isn't there a little part of us all that wishes we were him?

I think I can let go of quite a few more things and maybe my heart will sigh a big sigh of relief!

Friday 21 March 2014

Spring In A Basket

With spring officially here, I am already thinking of outdoor decor. How about painting up a basket to hold all those flowers that will be popping up in the gardens! ~

This little wicker basket on a bamboo stand started out as a $4 thrift store find. ~

The basket got a light coat of blue, latex paint. The stand had a shiny surface and rather than sand it, I mixed the latex paint with Plaster of Paris and water for a DIY chalk paint. ~

To make your own chalk paint, mix 2 parts latex paint to one part Plaster of Paris.  Stir until thoroughly mixed and there are no lumps.  Thin with warm water to the normal paint consistency.  That's all there is to it.

Now to give it all an aged look.  I mixed dark brown craft paint half and half with water to create a wash that would drip into the recesses. ~

As I painted on the wash, I wiped back with a cloth.  Don't worry if it looks too dark.  You can always lighten it up by dry brushing some of the original (in this case blue) paint on top of the brown after it has dried.

Just the right amount of age for my taste! ~

The sign is a blank piece from Michael's and I added a chalkboard paint centre.  It's the first time I've used chalkboard paint and it went on easily.  After two coats of paint dried, I seasoned it by rubbing a piece of chalk across it and it's ready for me to add whatever script strikes my fancy.

I'm not quite sure how this basket will be used on the front porch.  Clara Jane thinks she has found the perfect use for it! ~

Now, all I need is for the mounds of snow to melt away and the real daffodils to bloom for my basket of spring!

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Grow Your Own Sprouts

My girlfriends and I went out for a shopping day.  They had a heyday in the clothing stores and my big thrill was the farmer's market.  What can I say?  I'm odd.

I'm itching to be outside gardening and a packet of mumm's sprouts looked like the perfect answer for a little indoor garden pretending. ~

I tried to grow sprouts years ago and it involved a tray with layers of paper towel, daily misting and a general failure with mouldy seeds.  In the day and age of Internet and clever bloggers, that has all changed. Someone figured out an easier, foolproof way to have a regular supply of sprouts at you fingertips.

For $4 the mumm's Crunchy Bean Mix guaranteed that my seeds were organic and free of pesticides. You can buy them at health foods stores and some garden centres.

All you need is a canning jar, some cheesecloth, pesticide free seeds and water. ~

Put 2 tbsp. of the seeds in the jar.  Cut a piece of cheesecloth to cover the top of the jar and fasten it in place with a sealer ring. ~

The cheesecloth is going to allow you to add water and drain it out without any of the seeds escaping the jar.

I followed the instructions on the seed packet.  Cover the seeds in water, swish them around in the jar and drain the water out.  Repeat the process.  Make sure all the seeds have fallen back to the bottom of the jar and add water to cover the seeds with an extra half inch or so.

Let it sit for 4 to 6 hours. ~

Drain the water off and the prep part is all done.

Lie the jar on it's side away from direct sunlight.  I put mine in a kitchen cupboard. ~

Twice a day, add water, swish the seeds around and drain the water back out.  By day two, I could see tiny sprouts growing. ~

This is exciting!  Not only am I getting the jump on the growing season, but these sprouts are chock full of nutrition.  You seriously have to click on this link to Get Healthy Life.  I guarantee you will be amazed at the health benefits of incorporating sprouts into your diet!  A quart sealer of sprouted seeds costs about a quarter.

By day five, the sprouts were a nice size for adding to sandwiches, stir fries, veggie soup, fried rice, etc.

Try to get a close up of the sprouts and get photo bombed by the ever helpful Clara Jane. ~

How many of you are making a mental note to never eat sprouts at my house because the cat stuck her nose on the cheesecloth?  I know you are!

This is a really fun project to do with kids.  They see them grow and that always helps to get them to try something new.

By day five I have a bowl full. I can keep them in the fridge, in a covered container, for about a week. ~

They won't last a week in this house.  The chickens went wild over them!

Friday 14 March 2014

My Own Bit Of Ireland

I may have spoken a tad too soon about springs arrival.  Another foot of snow has fallen and the wind wailed around the house.  It was the perfect time for my furnace to conk out!  While I waited for the repairman to come, there was no better time to create a bit of the Emerald Isle and will myself far away from a Canadian winter.

I had in mind a bit of Irish countryside and the table in front of the old, chippy door has a bit of greenery on it already.  The herbs are in a sorry state by this time of year but I'm not giving up on them yet!

This is the rosemary I was growing to shape into a Christmas tree.  I think it's coming along quite well, don't you?  Why did I even attempt that when I was a dismal failure with a bonsai? ~

The basil will stay until there isn't a single leaf left to pick. ~

Let's pretend they are trees and build from there.  Green sequined fabric for grass, some coins for good luck and green candles that I can't light unless I stand guard over them, or I'll have barbarian cats on fire! ~

I've a new shamrock.  They ate the 20+ year old one and then knocked it over repeatedly to make sure it was dead.  I am determined never to become attached to a plant again.  Or, harbour deranged cats!

I told my sister I was looking for a cheap fountain and she found me this sweetie for $2 at a thrift shop. ~

The crystal ball spins on the water and turns colour.  The little mill wheel fits in perfectly with my family story.  We came to Canada by rather odd means.  My great, great grandmother, Susan O'Neill, was the niece of the lord of the castle.  She was protestant.  Somehow or other, she wound up marrying a Catholic priest.  Say what!  Her family bought him a flour mill.  Obviously a change of career was in order for him. They had my great grandmother while still in Ireland.  With famine still ravaging their homeland, they decided to sell the mill and move to Canada where they bought a farm and he became a circuit minister.  I have a weird family.  It's a miracle I turned out so normal!

I thought the barbarians would be a problem around the fountain but they seemed to be afraid of the sound of the pump and stayed away from it for a whole week.

Then, Clara Jane remembered that she is obsessed with water.  It's impossible for me to brush my teeth without spitting toothpaste onto the cat that is batting at the water.  She's fallen into the tub with me at least four times while I've been taking a soothing bath.

So, Cara Jane the Irish barbarian, decided to check this thing out. ~

Batting at that crystal ball and sending water flying everywhere is tons of fun!

Thank heavens she can't reach the Celtic cross hung at the top of the door.  At least I don't think she can. ~

At night, I can imagine myself far away, nursing a glass of Bushmill's and listening to water flow through that mill from so long ago. ~

And, if she's sleepy enough Clara Jane will leave the magic orb alone. ~

If all of that leaves anyone in doubt of my heritage, the little shelf in the library has the family banner that declares this the 'Land Of The O'Neills'.  The spelter urns, Beleek basket weaver and china angel are all from Ireland and I think my ancestors will be looking down with a smile.

Happy St. Patrick's Day and may you have more luck than the Irish have ever been known to have!

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Can This Mean Spring?

While the neighbours are away, I head to their house to check on it and feed their bunny.

What's this I spy with my little eye? ~

He has the taps in the sugar maple and the buckets are ready to go. ~

They never asked me to check the buckets but I'm a very conscientious house sitter and take a peek inside.  Plus, if it's a good yield this year, they'll give me some of the maple syrup.

Oh my gosh, the sap is running! The trees have decided it is spring. ~

I don't just take the tree's word for it.  I need a second opinion.

Ann Boleyn claims the delicate constitution of a royal and has refused to step foot outside the coop all winter. ~

Molly and Kay venture out unless it's snowing heavily or very windy, but Ann will not.  Kay has the frostbitten comb to show for her reckless wandering in the frigid temperatures.  I had to put Vaseline on their combs as a protective barrier and, let me tell you, chickens are not fond of having that procedure done to them!

Ann is outside so it must be spring! ~

We have weathered a difficult winter and the sunshine makes us dream of gardens and boat rides, campfires and barbecues.

Ann's dreams are a little more lofty, though.

She dreams of this new home she'd like me to build. It's much more in keeping with her station in life. ~

We can dream, Ann.  We can all dream.

Saturday 8 March 2014

Beating Winter Blahs

Because this winter keeps dragging on and on and on ~

I'm getting desperate for any cheerful pastime.

Let's root around in the freezer, bring out some summer YUM and make a batch of jam!

Berries are such a labour intensive crop that they are really expensive and wild or organic berries are the most expensive of all.  My trick is to buy them on sale or reduced for quick sale.  If they are close to going bad, I freeze them right away and, when I have enough saved up in the freezer, I turn them into jam or pies.

For the full tutorial on making jam click here.

Seeing the ingredients lined up and ready to go shakes off some of the gloom of the day. ~

A little mashing, ~

a little bubbling ~

and a test to see if it set. ~

Even if the sun won't shine, there's a half dozen jars of pure Canadian blueberry jam for comfort. ~

I've even managed to do this without the ever constant help of Clara Jane.  I'm kind of embarrassed to tell you the lengths I go to just to keep that cat occupied.

She's not into making jam nearly as much as she is into the BBC series Planet Earth.  A friend loaned me this series and I sure hope she doesn't want it back anytime soon!

Clara Jane's favourite part is the water buffalo.  At least I think that's what they are. Maybe they are Yaks. I'll have to ask her when she wakes up from her nap on my lap. ~

Clara Jane and I will not be defeated by this winter no matter how many Polar Vortexes we have to endure!

Sunday 2 March 2014

His Master's Voice Salt & Pepper Shakers

I've shown you before the set of His Master's Voice salt and pepper shakers that I keep under a glass dome in my dining room.  They have a special place in my heart because my grandfather designed them for the RCA Victor company.  They were given away as premiums to RCA Victor customers.

Nipper, the RCA Victor mascot, is still one of the most recognised logos worldwide.  I wonder if Francis Barraud had any idea that his painting of the little dog that had belonged to his brother and then came to him on his brother's death, would make Nipper one of the best beloved dogs of all time? He did the painting in 1898, three years after the dog had passed away.  Nipper used to sit by the gramophone, head cocked to one side, listening to the sounds that came from the horn.  The painting was eventually sold to RCA Victor to use as a logo and the rest is history.

The salt and pepper shakers are very collectible and worth watching for at yard sales and thrift shops. But, you have to beware of copies.  They have been reproduced many times, sometimes under licence for RCA Victor and sometimes as knockoffs to trap unsuspecting collectors.

Let's take a look at the original ones that my grandfather, Jesse William Wyatt, modelled.  By original, I mean the very first set that came off the production line!  The glaze isn't perfected on these and were from a test run. ~

The ears are black.  The black collar denotes pepper and the brown is salt.  I see that order reversed by experts from time to time, but I can tell you for certain that my grandfather marked them as such.

When you see brown ears, you know they are not original. These ones were made in Korea. ~

Each time they take a mold off a set of dogs, instead of from the original model, some detail is lost. My grandfather studied anatomy and was a stickler for showing skeletal and muscular structure as well as it could be shown in a mass produced piece of ceramics.

Later, licenced sets are collectible but aren't very well made.  You can see how much the design has degenerated in these copies from the 1950's. ~

The quickest way to determine if a set is original is to look for detail on the chest and shoulders of the dog. ~

I'm afraid you won't ever find a set like these ones.  My dad left them to my sister when he passed away. My grandfather took three trial sets off the line and inscribed the names of his three sons on them, along with the date of 1938, where it would normally say RCA Victor.

This set belonged to my dad. ~

I'm pretty sure my sister would notice if I switch my set for her signed set.  Instead, I'll return them to her and thank her for letting me share this bit of collectible history.

Happy hunting music memorabilia collectors!

I'm sharing this with - What's It WednesdayCottage Style PartyFrom Dream To RealityTuesdays With A Twist

ps ~ My cousin has just told me there were four sets of signed shakers.  My grandfather did the fourth for himself.  All four sets are still in the hands of family members.